Premeditated Myrtle: Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Premeditated Myrtle: Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Lively Victorian mystery with girl detective and governess.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

As the child of brainy people, Myrtle is fluent in Latin and Greek, and up to speed on a lot of science, all of which comes through in a lot of explanatory footnotes. She also speaks in bossy Victorian English, which involves a lot of vocabulary words like "reticule." And her dad's a prosecutor, so there's plenty of legal terminology like "affidavit" and "jurisprudence."

Positive Messages

Lots of girl-power messages as Myrtle remains unconvinced about the restrictions besetting Young Ladies of Quality in the Victorian era, and her intrepid governess offers strategic guidance. Also lots of cheerleading for learning about science, criminology, and history as part of that girl power. Learning from your mistakes is good, and quite a lot of that goes on here. Villains get their comeuppance, eventually, and it's worth making the effort to help that happen and protect the innocent.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bright and determined, Myrtle relentlessly investigates and doesn't lack the courage to speak up, which sometimes works out well and sometimes leads to trouble for innocent people. Her governess, Ms. Judson, is a biracial woman (White British and Black French Guianese) who is a clever teacher and protects her loved ones. Myrtle's widowed father, aside from being something of a magnet for scheming women, is intelligent, learned, and supportive (he lets Myrtle come to court where he's the prosecutor). Other adult characters aren't necessarily what they first seem -- for good and ill, as seemingly good characters aren't, and questionable ones prove to have unexpected fine qualities. A a mean girl changes her ways and becomes friends with Myrtle.

Violence

An old lady is killed; an elderly man who did not do the deed confesses anyway. Guns are brandished, gardens destroyed, detectives threatened, fathers kidnapped, and there's a spectacular explosion at just the right moment. Mean girls lock Myrtle in a morgue -- which she finds more intriguing than scary.

Sex

Myrtle's beloved governess is in love with her father, but the blond woman next door also seems to have designs on him.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters smoke cigars and cigarillos.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Premeditated Myrtle is the first book in a new series by Elizabeth C. Bunce, featuring 12-year-old Victorian detective Myrtle Hardcastle, her beloved widowed dad (a prosecutor), and her also-beloved governess, Ada Judson, the biracial child of White British and Black French Guianese parents who sent her to England for her education and health. Myrtle is quite the know-it-all, but often she's right, so when she (correctly) discovers that her neighbor's been murdered and suspicion falls on her innocent friend, she has to learn some prudence and strategy from Miss Judson. Guns, explosives, and poisons play a part in the story, as do a lot of people who aren't what they first appear to be. Along the way, there's lots of arcane but intriguing knowledge, like how to use quicklime as an explosive, and the fact that lilies are poisonous to cats. Myrtle falls victim to mean girls who lock her up in a morgue -- which she finds more intriguing than scary.

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What's the story?

PREMEDITATED MYRTLE takes us to the village of Swinburne, England in 1893, where 12-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle, child of an absentminded prosecutor and a now-deceased woman doctor, is a relentless investigator of everything that interests her, and also quick to jump to conclusions that may not be quite right. Her governess, Miss Judson, is more than a match for her, though, steering her along good paths and teaching her to ask important questions. So when Myrtle's observations tell her not only that there's something wrong at the house next door, but also that the occupant's been murdered -- and it turns out to be true -- she should be pretty proud. But she's not, because the neighbor's elderly gardener, and her own good friend, confesses to the crime, so she needs to put things to rights.

Is it any good?

This is a lively romp with appealing characters, melodramatic situations, and many perils. A Victorian 12-year-old's fascination with Sherlock Holmes and "penny dreadfuls" (sensational stories sold for a penny) serves her well in as she discovers a murder right next door. Myrtle is quick to jump to conclusions, but her wise and beloved governess, Miss Judson, is there to keep her on the right path, and more than once she discovers that things, and people, are not at all what they she first thought. It's especially fun having the young detective herself narrate Premeditated Myrtle and address the reader directly:

"Dear Reader, surely I need not enumerate the dangers posed by my present course of action; they are drilled into every girl from the cradle, by every possible means. I knew all about Spring-Heel'd Jack, the fied who stalked the pages of the penny dreadfuls. Not to mention Jack the Ripper, the fiend who'd stalked the real-life streets of London only a few years ago. There were body snatchers and burkers, press gangs waiting to drug the unsuspecting and ship them off to sea, and all manner of Deviants,ready to Defile the Innocent.I was not certain what that last meant, precisely, except that it was practically guaranteed to occur the instant the Young Lady of Quality touched her bootheel to the moonlit earth."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stories involving kid detectives. How does Premeditated Myrtle compare with other young sleuths you know about? Do you think the time and place in which they're doing their detecting makes a difference in what they do and how they do it?

  • Myrtle has to walk into the village to get access to a telephone because her father refuses to get one (it's 1893). How might modern technology have made this story different?

  • Do you think it's possible for mean girls to have a change of heart and mend their ways, even becoming true friends to their former victims?

Book details

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For kids who love mysteries and girl detectives

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